Published by Ma’an News 26 March 2014
By Jeff Halper
The "Judaization" of Jerusalem and the West Bank continues apace, despite (and in fact because of) the so-called "Kerry initiative."
Over the past few months the Israeli government has intensified its campaign of demolitions in Jerusalem, in the strategic E1 area between Jerusalem and the Maale Adumin settlement, in the South Hebron Hills and in the Jordan Valley.
According to UN figures, 231 Palestinians have been displaced from their homes in the first two months of 2014, During that short time 132 structures were demolished, a pace outstripping that of 2013, when 1,103 structures were demolished and 663 people displaced, itself the highest level in the past five years. Besides homes, "structures" refers as well to livestock pens, fences, water reservoirs and even public buildings such as schools, all vital to the livelihood and communal life of Palestinians.
Overall, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions estimates that since 1967 some 29,000 Palestinian homes and livelihood structures have been demolished in the Occupied Territories -- and that doesn't include the ongoing demolition of thousands of other homes of Palestinian and Bedouin citizens of Israel.
At the same time, of course, the Israeli government has announced the construction of thousands of new homes and infrastructural projects in the settlements of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Thus, while recently approving another 1,500 housing units in the illegal East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo, 558 in other East Jerusalem settlements and 3,500 more in the West Bank, it issued demolition orders for 2,000 housing units in the nearby area of Ras al-Khamis and the Shuafat refugee camp.
"Demolition" is only the visible part of the problem, of course. Displacement caused by lack of access to water or agricultural land and the actual expropriation of lands necessary for the continuation of Palestinian communal life is the real point of the demolition policy.
In East Jerusalem, the Israeli government is establishing a "national park" on the lands of Issawiya and al-Tur to the northeast of the city, fragmenting East Jerusalem communities while creating a "bridge" between Israeli Jerusalem and Maale Adumin -- creating a so-called "Greater (Israeli) Jerusalem" that divides the West Bank on half and effectively ends any prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state.
Following a process Israel officially calls "Judaization," 40 percent of the Jewish residents of Jerusalem now live in the Palestinian part of the city, in expansive settlements that confine Palestinians to tiny ghettos.
Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah is being depopulated and replaced by Israeli Jews; recently the municipality announced the construction of a massive twelve-story "campus" of dormitories and classrooms for Jewish yeshiva students in the heart of the neighbourhood.
Silwan is also in the process of being erased from the map: it has already been renamed "The City of David," declared an Israeli national park and "Judaized" by dozens of settler families. The government plans to demolish 88 Palestinian homes in order to make way for parking lots and park facilities.
In other parts of Jerusalem -- al-Tur, for example, or Jabal Mukkaber, Sur Baher and Beit Hanina -- demolitions occur at a slower but steady pace, "under the radar" to avoid international criticism but enough to prevent Palestinian families from improving their standards of living. Here the message is the flip-side of "Judaization": de-Arabization. Keeping the city's Palestinian population -- a third of Jerusalem's population -- living in miserable conditions (one has simply to compare the infrastructures of East and West Jerusalem) is yet another part of the strategy of displacement.
It has yet another wrinkle as well. Israel has a declared, racist policy of maintaining a 72 percent majority of Jews over Arabs in Jerusalem. How does it achieve that? Well, its dual policy of demolishing homes while not issuing building permits to Palestinians has led to a shortage of some 25,000 housing units in the Palestinian sector.
That has pushed up the price of scarce housing available to Palestinians, forcing thousands -- 70 percent of East Jerusalem Palestinians live under the poverty line -- to seek more affordable housing in Arab neighborhoods just beyond the gerrymandered Jerusalem border, such as Bir Naballah, al-Ram, Hizma, al-Eizariya, or Abu Dis.
By shifting the "center of their lives" from Jerusalem, however, these hapless Palestinians, who are not citizens of Israel but only "permanent residents" of Jerusalem, lose their residency rights and are barred from re-entering the city, even if they are employed there. HaMoked forced the Ministry of the Interior to reveal that, since 1967, 14,309 Palestinians have lost their residency, thus furthering the process of "Judaizing" the city.
The same policies of displacement, de-Arabization and Judaization take place in the West Bank, which Israel has zoned almost completely as "agricultural land," thus providing a "legal" basis for not granting building permits to Palestinians, demolishing whatever homes they manage to construct and, as in the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills, displacing entire communities. (Needless to say, Israel has rezoned its settlement areas so that construction is legal.)
In 1967, between 200,000-320,000 Palestinians lived in the Jordan Valley; today only about 55,000 remain, and of those only 15,000 remain in the Area C outside of the city of Jericho -- an area comprising 30 percent of the West Bank -- half of them Bedouin.
The communities in Area C are under tremendous pressure of demolition and displacement. A full 94 percent of their agricultural land is off-limits to them.
The destruction of Palestinian homes does not occur only in the Occupied Territories, of course. The entire country is being Judaized; Palestine transformed into the Land of Israel. In recent years the Israeli government has demolished three times more homes inside Israel than it has in the Occupied Territories.
The Bedouin-Palestinian community of al-Araqib, whose residents are Israeli citizens, has now been entirely demolished 61 times (and each time rebuilt by the residents and their supporters).
Israeli officials often say: "We never finished 1948."
That doesn't mean they have given up trying.
Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)